The Letters Page Vol 4 launch with Roddy Doyle and Jon McGregor

The letters page is a literary journal that we publish in the
School of English. It’s a project
that students were involved in working on and in some ways is typical literary journal in that it publishes stories, poems, essays,
reportage, memoir. But all of the submissions for the journal come in the form of
handwritten letters and they have to be
sent in the post. And partly that’s because I’m really interested
in exploring the form of the letter. Now that it’s
effectively died out as a kind of viable form. Partly because it’s
a way of almost tricking people
into writing something interesting. We tend to find that because people are not familiar with
writing letters. On the whole, they
they write with a slightly different
part of their brain engaged and we tend to get, I think, more
interesting work than we would otherwise. How do you decide
which letters go in and which don’t? That is sometimes a
difficult choice. Sometimes it’s fairly
straightforward. It’s something
that is… … the part of the process that it’s
really good to get students involved with
because it’s a way of making them really think about what makes
good writing and I’m able to show
them quite often What distinguishes a
quite interesting piece of writing from a really
good, compelling, engaging piece of writing and often it comes down to… do you want to finish this letter all
the way to the end? You know that that’s a really valid way of assessing a
piece of writing. But the really
interesting thing that I find is that we’ve often published
work by people who don’t really think of
themselves as writers, but because they
understand the form of the letter they’ve
written in a very unselfconscious way. And so we published work by very high profile writers
like Roddy Doyle, like people like George Saunders,
Kevin Barry, Naomi Alderman, you know, really successful writers
in their own right. We’ve also published
work where people who’ve
never had anything published before and
maybe never will again. But they’ve
wanted to write to us and tell us something about their day or their life. We’ve published a letter
in the last issue from a woman in Germany who was just describing sitting
in a garden, peeling an orange. And if she’d sat down to write a poem about
peeling an orange, I think it would have
come out much more clumsily, much more
self-conscious. But it was a
letter and it had this beautiful
simplicity about it. What place do you
think a journal like this has in this part of the 21st century when
there’s so much going on in the written and spoken word with digital
platforms? I think literary
journals like The Letters Page
and, like a lot of other small literary
journals, have really flourished in the last five or 10 years. They have got a place
because they are there doing the
job of curation, which in the digital age
everyone’s desperate for – somebody to curate what they what they’re
going to read, what they’re
going to consume. And there are a lot of small press
literature journals which are doing
a fantastic job of supporting new writers, supporting
emerging writers, supporting sometimes
established writers, writing something
outside of what they normally do and bringing that
work to to an audience. And sometimes that
happens online, sometimes it
happens in print. But I think it’s a
really exciting period for writers
and for readers, because the gatekeeping has shifted and that’s
that’s been brought in by the Internet,
by the digital age. But the idea of
gatekeeping has changed. And so it’s not just that you can find
interesting writing online. It’s happening in print. It’s happening
at live events. And I’m really
excited, by the way, that The Letters Page fits
into that landscape. And by the way, that we can encourage our students to see
themselves as part of that landscape
and contribute to new writing and to supporting the writing and to reading and engaging
with that work.

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